The expression “patience is a virtue” has always stuck in my head since I was a kid. Of all the many virtues that are out there, I have to think displaying patience has got to be one of the toughest to master, just from my own experience. My biggest problem is getting stuck in traffic – all my mild-mannered, good-natured half-fullness seems to evaporate as soon as my car comes to a screeching halt on the parkway. I’m getting better since I decided to live no more than 15 minutes from my office 12 years ago – highly recommended if traffic is your Achilles heel too.
So, when I got to the Sunday Papers this morning, I read with great interest a short article in the NY Times about a recent AP-Ipsos poll about public attitudes about impatience. This piece focused on one particular question, who’s to blame for long waits at the store or office. The culprit, according to John Q. Public? Poor management planning. OK, I get it – as I’ve said, “the fish stinks from the head down”, and apparently a lot of other people think that way too.
This got me to wondering about other conclusions reached by this survey – I looked it up and found it here. Here’s my take on them:
- The most hated wait? The grocery/retail store, at 34%. My worst nightmare, traffic, was only at 3%. I can only conclude that I’m more easily distracted by the magazines at the checkout than most people (gotta get that gossip!)
- Of the situations presented, people lose their patience the easiest when they are on hold on the telephone (77%), and the least when they are waiting for a bus or a train (only 18%). Now I can’t figure this out either – I guess most folks haven’t figured out how to use the speaker phone and “multi-task” while on hold, and somehow must take solace at the train station that many other people are sharing their misery. Interesting.
- Now here is the really befuddling stuff – people have longer patience when they are standing in line than when they are on hold with a telephone. 52% of the respondents would wait in line for longer than 11 minutes, while 54% couldn’t wait any longer than 5 minutes on the phone. What is it about that darn phone that keeps us from virtue? Must be the hold music……(a better guess is that most people phoning have a problem and are mad already, versus people in line who are just waiting to buy something they want)
- Sure enough, they asked about hold music, and yes, most of them prefered music (82%) to say, information about how long they are likely to hold (59%), silence (29%), and advertisements about the company’s products (26%) (yes, as someone who oversees a call center, I made careful note of this one).
- Lastly, they asked if a long hold experience would make them likely to no longer do business with that company – 50% said yes. If “long” is really 5 minutes, even good companies must be losing a lot of customers, so this doesn’t jive very well.
To put this in perspective, I found a couple of other articles that commented on the survey, one here that quotes a 72 year old man as saying “life is too short to be upset” (got that right!), and an editorial that I believe sums this all up best: “Enduring a wait gracefully is a sign of self-discipline, maturity and empathy. It’s a matter of realizing that somewhere behind layers of technology – synchronized stoplights, computerized cash registers – are real human beings, who are generally going the fastest and doing the best that they can. The time we “make up” as we push our way through life we probably presume to spend in some civilized endeavor. But learning to wait humbly, kindly and graciously may be as important as wherever it was we so hurriedly wanted to go.”
Amen to that – I will keep this in mind as I get in my car and face the traffic tomorrow.